Nutrition & Your Eyes
Good nutrition is important in keeping your eyes healthy and functioning. There are two very important nutrients that may reduce the risk for macular degeneration (loss of central vision) and cataracts (clouding of the lens): lutein (loo-teen) and zeaxanthin (zee-ah-zan-thin).
Lutein and zeaxanthin are compounds called xanthophylls, which are yellow pigments that occur naturally in many plants and vegetables. Xanthophylls belong to a class of organic compounds called carotenoids, which also includes orange and red plant pigments.
In nature, lutein and zeaxanthin absorb excess light energy to prevent damage to plants from too much sunlight, especially from high-energy light rays. It can be found in many green leafy plants and colourful fruits and vegetables. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also found in high concentrations in the macula of the human eye, giving the macula its yellowish colour.
Lutein and zeaxanthin have important antioxidant functions in the body, along with other natural antioxidants, such as vitamin C, beta carotene and vitamin E. These guard the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that cause damage to DNA and play a role in many diseases.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin also help to block blue light (light emitted from modern technology) from reaching the underlying structures in the retina, thereby reducing the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that could lead to macular degeneration (AMD). A number of studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent AMD or slow progression of the disease.
In addition to protecting the macula, lutein and zeaxanthin also may reduce the risk of cataracts.
The source of lutein is marigold flowers, whilst zeaxanthin is often found in red peppers. If you choose to buy a lutein and zeaxanthin supplement, make sure it a high quality product from a reputable dietary supplement company.
Remember, taking dietary supplements does not replace a healthy diet. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is the best source of nutrients.
Flaxseed oil and fish oil contain important dietary fatty acids (omega-3) that have multiple health benefits, including the relief of dry eye symptoms. Other benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease and chronic inflammation that can lead to a variety of serious diseases, such as cancer and stroke.
Daily supplements of flaxseed oil or fish oil, when used alone or in tandem with lubricating eye drops, appear to reduce dry eye symptoms, including burning, stinging, redness and intermittent visual disturbances. For this reason, many ophthalmologists are now recommending flaxseed oil and fish oil supplements for their patients who suffer from dry eyes.
Research also suggests these same fatty acids may reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
However, omega-6 fats, found in vegetable oils (corn, soy, cottonseed, safflower and sunflower) used in most prepared foods, counteract the benefits of omega-3 by blocking omega-3 absorptopn and promoting inflammation when consumed in excess.
Despite the many benefits to fish oil, long-term use of fish oil can cause vitamin E deficiency in some individuals. Therefore, it is advisable to look for fish oil supplements that also contain vitamin E, or take a multiple vitamins that contains this vitamin if you take fish oil supplements to treat dry eyes.
Please seek medical advise if you are taking blood thinners (even aspirin), as both flaxseed and fish oil can increase the risk of bleeding and reduce blood clotting when used along with these medications.